Racing: Short Skirt overwhelms Oaks favourite

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The Independent Online

Everyone had heard about the way Alexandrova was supposed to have worked at Ballydoyle last week, but the only flying machine here yesterday was the one that delayed her exit from the parade ring. An air ambulance had landed adjacent to the track, attending a racegoer, and the six runners in the Musidora Stakes were obliged to wait before gaining access to the Knavesmire. Once they had done so, backers of the odds-on favourite were in need of medical attention themselves.

The Irish filly began her race dreadfully, and ended it tamely. In fairness, the bit in between offered plenty of encouragement, and she remains one of the favourites for the Oaks. With many bookmakers, however, she has been supplanted by Short Skirt, who beat her with authority despite meeting trouble in running.

Leaving the gate, Alexandrova was squeezed and pitched on to her knees, and Kieren Fallon was soon bustling her along in last place. Halfway down the long straight, however, she abruptly came back on the bridle and eased into the lead - only for Short Skirt to appear, no less suddenly, breathing down her neck. Michael Kinane could not have found Short Skirt more cover had he been concerned with her modesty, but once able to exhibit the length of her stride, she quickened decisively.

Alexandrova has a length and a quarter to find with the winner at Epsom, and Fallon is confident she will match the improvement made this year by so many stablemates after their reappearance. "She would have needed that," he said. "She got tired. Hopefully that will have put her right."

Certainly the winner had looked sharper beforehand, and her stable is thriving. In fact, this was the third Oaks trial won by Sir Michael Stoute, who cautioned against any assumption that Short Skirt would necessarily run at Epsom. "We'd have our reservations," the trainer said. "She does love this ground - she won her maiden in it, and the whole family has been best with plenty of cut. I couldn't commit at this stage."

Though by Diktat, Short Skirt has a fairly doughty family and would hold every chance of lasting the extra distance at Epsom. She only found her full stride late and galloped right out before pulling up. "Mick said he couldn't get going when he wanted to," Stoute said. "When he got out, she did pick up well, though, and showed a nice turn of foot. It was only her third race, and her second was a bit of a non-event, so she is learning all the time."

Both Stoute's other trial winners are owned by the Aga Khan, and only one of those will go to Epsom. His apparent preference would be to run Riyalma, the Pretty Polly Stakes winner, rather than Sindirana, who struggled home at Lingfield last Saturday, though Riyalma is another who would prefer easier ground.

The Epsom management will presumably err on the side of caution, on the eve of the Derby itself, and conditions will surely be safe enough. If so, Ladbrokes may regret their present offer of 14-1 against Riyalma. They keep faith with Alexandrova at 7-2, from Short Skirt on 5-1 and Speciosa on 8-1. Coral make both Short Skirt and Riyalma 7-1 behind Alexandrova on 9-2, while Totesport have Short Skirt as short as 7-2.

Hopelessly confused by the fillies, the bookmakers seem unanimous that Visindar will remain Derby favourite after the Dante Stakes today. Still, this is the race that yielded Motivator last year, and North Light in 2004, so the Godolphin stable will be anxiously hoping that Palace Episode can ignite their season. Their most realistic prospect on the card, however, may be Portrayal, who will also be comfortable with conditions in the Middleton Stakes.

The yielding ground suited Steenberg in yesterday's Duke of York Stakes, though it would be surprising if anything in the field could beat Gift Horse next time. He went like a panther until tiring into fifth and is sure to win a top sprint this season.

Nobody arrested more attention, however, than the man who puts unique devilry into God's own county. After saddling Blue Spinnaker to win the opener, Mick Easterby used the earthiest farming language - country matters, as Hamlet might have it - in a live Channel 4 interview and then pondered the future of Paul Mulrennan, who lost his right to claim with this 95th winner. "Gotta keep 'em on the floor, you know," he said. "The moment they start thinking they're jockeys, that's it."